A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Fall 2008

View more articles in the Fall 2008 issue.

International Student Profile

Weagba Fulfills Call to Mission at Luther

by Shelley Cunningham ('98)

Lydia Manawu Weagba is not the first female African pastor to study at Luther Seminary. But as the first
ordained female pastor in the Lutheran Church in Liberia, she felt God's hand leading her to fulfill her
calling -- a journey that now brings her to St. Paul.

Her Call to Ministry

"It was not always easy," she admits. "In the Lutheran church [in Liberia], it was not an option for women to be ordained. People told me, 'why can't you do something traditional?'"

So, at first, she tried, enrolling in a teacher training program.

It was an encounter with the man she calls her "spiritual father," Rev. Dr. Jerry Schmalenberger, who helped guide her decision to pursue ordination. Schmalenberger is the former president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, who was in Liberia on sabbatical with his wife Carol in 1987.

"He saw my heart, and it was not for teacher college, but for seminary," she said. "He encouraged me to follow that desire." The two have kept in frequent contact through the years.

Still, her father, a pastor who also served on the board of the Gbarnga School of Theology, told her to complete her teaching degree. "He believed you should finish what you start. He called me a missionary at the teacher college." She did, earning her diploma and driving right over to start seminary.

Lydia was ordained in 2000. After three years serving as a parish pastor, she was selected to teach and serve as the Assistant Director of the Rev. Louis T. Bowers Lay Leader and Minister Training Center in Totota, Liberia.

The Path to Luther

One day, her office received a copy of the Luther Seminary Academic Catalog. As she read the description of the Congregational Mission and Leadership (CML) program, she says, it felt like the next step for her own continuing education. She started the process of applying to the seminary, and the ELCA for scholarship funds. But in the meantime, the Training Center director left his post, and she was named acting director.

"We had many conversations about what I should do," she said. "People told me, 'You are already a capable leader! Why do you need to go away to study?'"

Ever the biblical scholar, she pointed to Priscilla and Aquila as models of the importance of well-trained teachers.

"I told them, I need to go, learn more and come back."

It was hard to leave the Training Center in the midst of transition, she admits, but she trusts that the staff and students are in good hands. And they will be when she returns - the school has decided to hold the directorship open for her, and she will resume the position in a non-interim status.

Skills to Bring Home

Lydia is currently halfway through the two-year Master of Arts program. "I really enjoy not just the CML coursework, but the Old Testament, the New Testament, the pastoral care courses. I want to take as many as I can while I am here, because I know that I will put them to use [at the Training Center] in the future."

While Lydia has been living in Minnesota, her husband, George, has been pursing a Doctor of Ministry degree through Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. Because some of his coursework has been online, he has been able to remain in Liberia with their six-year-old daughter. The family hopes to reunite and travel in the United States in the spring when both George and Lydia receive their degrees.

"Though, we are hoping the graduations do not occur on the same day!" she laughs.

And though it has been hard to be away from her family while she studies, she says she has built close relationships with other students.

"God has helped bring me here," she says. "It feels very much like a blessing."

For more information go to:

Lutheran Church in Liberia and Louis T. Bowers Lay Leaders and Ministry Training Center (on the ELCA's website).